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July 15, 2017
Bar board to meet July 21 in Miami

A report on the Bar’s president-elect campaigning process and whether an online company that matches lawyers with potential clients is a lawyer referral service will be on the Board of Governors July 21 agenda.

The Miami meeting will be the first for the Bar’s 2017-18 fiscal year, with newly installed President Michael Higer and President-elect Michelle Suskauer.

At the board’s May meeting, Higer announced he has appointed a special elections committee to look at procedures for the annual selection of the Bar’s president-elect with an eye toward giving guidance to candidates. Higer said he hoped for recommendations for the board’s July meeting, so any changes in board policies would be in place for the next election cycle.

The Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics will present its recommendation on an inquiry from a Bar member on whether the Avvo Advisor program, as described by the inquirer, is covered by Bar lawyer referral service rules. The program charges callers $39 for a 15-minute consultation and the lawyer pays $10 to Avvo for its marketing service. As described in the inquiry, Avvo can provide a caller with a list of attorneys to choose from or, if the caller desires, suggest an attorney. The issue has added significance since many online legal service companies, such as RocketLawyer, LegalZoom, and others, have begun matching consumers and lawyers, raising questions of whether they are covered by Bar lawyer referral service rules.

The Bar had proposed a sweeping rewrite of its referral rules, including defining all those who match consumers and lawyers as “qualifying providers” and requiring them to follow Bar rules, including Bar review of their advertising. After oral arguments where Supreme Court justices indicated they wanted more information about the issue, the court dismissed the rule petition without prejudice, which allowed the Bar to have discussions with the justices before undertaking any new rule amendments.

The BRCPE could also bring a related issue to the board. A second attorney has inquired about a lawyer referral service that wants to use a different method for charging participating lawyers. Instead of a flat fee, the service would charge per lead referred to a lawyer. The fee could also vary depending on the type of case referred; a family law case might cost more to the attorney than a simple will, for example.

[Revised: 11-18-2017]